Uncompahgre Peak
excerpts from the book
Incredible Backcountry Trails 
by David Day

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Incredible Backcountry Trails
  • access info for 120 trailheads
  • 90 colorful trail maps
  • 305 full color photographs
  • loads of hiking tips
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    Distance: 7.2 miles (round trip)

    Walking time:  5 1/2 hours

    : 2,850 ft. gain/loss
       Nellie Creek Trailhead (start): 11,460 ft.
       Uncompahgre Peak: 14,309 ft.

    Trail: Generally well maintained and easy to follow.

    Season: Midsummer through mid-Fall. The upper parts of the trail are generally covered with snow from early November through mid-July.

    Vicinity: Near Lake City

    Uncompahgre PeakUncompahgre Peak


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    A "giant's top hat, slightly cocked to one side" is the way some climbers describe Uncompahgre Peak. As fourteeners go, it is a relatively easy climb, but there is really only one way to ascend the mountain. The peak is surrounded on three sides by vertical cliffs of crumbly volcanic rock, but fortunately the south side consists of a sloping ridge that is easily climbed with a minimum of scrambling.

    Uncompahgre Peak was first climbed by members of the Hayden Survey in 1874. The mountain has long been recognized for its scenic beauty, and in the 1930s the area was included as one of the Forest Service’s original Primitive Areas. In 1980 the peak became the centerpiece of the Big Blue Wilderness Area, later to be enlarged and renamed the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area.

    For the first 0.9 mile the trail follows the upper reaches of Nellie Creek as it climbs out of the forest to the alpine tundra above. The streambed is littered with volcanic boulders that have rolled down from an ancient lava flow above the south side of the creek. Some of the more interesting rocks are so full of holes they look like giant blocks of Swiss Cheese. These strange boulders are the result of sputtering around the volcanic vents, where gobs of relatively cool putty-like lava piled up and hardened into loosely packed mounds of basalt.

    After gaining 450 feet of elevation the trail comes to a junction where the Big Blue Trail leaves to the right. There shouldn’t be any doubt that you must bear left at this point because Uncompahgre Peak dominates the skyline directly in front of the trail. It is also obvious from this perspective exactly where the trail will go. The shear cliffs on the north side of the mountain make an easy assent impossible from that direction, whereas the route from the south looks quite feasible.

    For the next half-hour you will be walking westward across a gorgeous alpine tundra below the east side of the mountain. The elevation gain along this part of the hike is minimal, but after 1.0 mile the trail bends to the left and begins working its way up to the ridge on the south side of the peak.

    When you reach the ridge a whole new panorama of scenery will open up on the west side of the mountain. The Matterhorn (13,590 ft.) lies just two miles away, and just behind that is the Wetterhorn (14,015 ft.). There is often a strong wind blowing up the ridge from the west, and you are also likely to see hawks and other soaring birds riding the air currents.

    Half way up the ridge you will encounter a steep section of the trail where some scrambling is briefly necessary. Loose rocks can be a problem in this area, particularly if there are people directly above or below you. The steep part does not last long, however, and soon you will be back on the gently sloping top of the mountain. The last 250 yards of the climb is an easy walk with scarcely 120 feet of elevation gain.


    The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

    If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Uncompahgre Peak area
    we recommend:
    Silverton, Ouray, Telluride, Lake City (Trails Illustrated, map #141)

    Click here for DISCOUNTED MAP ORDERS

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